It’s not like we’re lacking in options. A quick google search brings up eight different places, six of which I’ve eaten at more than once, two of which I go to regularly. That’s not counting the many that have, over the years, popped up and then faded away. And now, a ninth has entered the Albuquerque scene.
More accurately, “Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining.” But that’s a bit of a mouthful. And isn’t the syllable “om” already the embodiment of all being? I’m pretty sure I remember something like that from my World Religions class. So I’ll stick with just OM, thanks.
According to his website, Paddy Rawal hails from Mumbai, India and has worked as a chef in a roster of countries—England, Dubai, Australia, Egypt—before arriving in the U.S. sometime around 2001. Prior to OM, he opened the well-regarded Raaga restaurant in Santa Fe. And now, he has joined the already crowded Indian smorgasbord in our humble little city. So what does he bring to that table?
OM occupies the space formerly held by Annapurna in the North Valley. It’s a large room with high ceilings and exposed ductwork and it feels cavernous and a bit empty. Fortunately, this impression is more than made up for by the warmth of the staff.
This is the kind of place where reservations are recommended, and even if you walk in on a Wednesday evening and find yourself facing an empty restaurant, you’ll still be asked for them. The first time that happened, I scoffed, but within a half hour the room had filled up almost completely. So call ahead.
There is a wine list offering an array of varieties and prices, as well as a selection of beers from Bud Light to Left Hand Milk Stout, all $5. This includes a mysterious entry called “Anchor Steam Porter,” which I ordered. It arrived as an Anchor Porter, and not as a unique house blend of porter and Steam which I was half-way hoping for. I guess it was a typo after all.
We began our meal with some samosas ($4.95) and chicken satay ($5.95). The samosas were crispy and filled with steamy potato and peas just as they should be. The satay—chicken medallions in a peanut and coconut sauce—were outstanding with a rich nutty flavor and just a hint of sweetness.
So far so good. The traditional Indian food is all as it should be, though the delicate spicing and Asian accents give the dishes a subtle twist from what you might find at other Albuquerque Indian restaurants .
We moved on to dessert. Honey soaked milk puffs ($3.95)—sweet and spongy fried balls in a honey sauce—were a hit with the children. My favorite was the kesar rasmalai ($3.95), a cheese based pudding with a wholesome saffron infused flavor. And mango kulfi ($3.95)—a dense ice-cream like dish—made for a refreshing and fruity palate cleanser.
Paddy Rawal’s OM enters a culinary landscape with lots of good Indian options already. But what makes the restaurant stand out is the personality of the owner, which come through in his mastery of subtle spicing, his willingness to experiment with fusion foods (even if they are not entirely successful) and his commitment to friendly, attentive service. OM has earned a distinctive place in Albuquerque’s food scene, and I look forward to eating there again.